I rode my bike and I liked it

This week I experienced a cycling epiphany. Returning home from work on a fine, Spring afternoon, it suddenly struck me that cycling can be pleasurable. After surviving the wettest Winter on record, experiencing the terror of strong gusting winds, shouting in pain against face-fulls of hailstones and having to confine all of my cycling to commuting in the dark for the last few months, it was a revelation to rediscover the pleasure of the bike. It may be a little early for Spring, but the days are long enough to commute in daylight rather than turning those invisible pedals in the darkness. Let’s hope those punishing Winter commutes will provide enough fitness to enjoy the forthcoming pleasurable cycling …


A warped sense of distance

I’ve been out running quite a bit recently. A few recurring cycling injuries and some advice from a physiotherapist have lead me to establishing a more balanced approach to exercise. I went out for a ‘little’ 6 mile run yesterday: 3 miles out-and-back to the other side of Chew Lake. But it was only when I got home and looked out of the window to the lake in the distant horizon that I realised 3 miles is still quite a long way. Cycling is clearly to blame for warping my sense of distances.

As well as thinking 3 miles is hardly worth getting out of bed for, cycling has also deceived me into thinking I work close to home. Due to injuries I drove the car to work for most of December and the exhausting tedium of the journey also brought a sense of perspective to 18 miles. It’s far. As cyclists we are nuts for considering it a short distance.

To cap off 2013 I went out for a 30-something mile ride today. The horizontal distance wasn’t really important, it was all about taking on a few challenging climbs. I made three separate climbs of the Mendip hills interspersed by a few descents to catch my breath, the highlight being a recently discovered 4 mile gradual descent along a quiet back lane. This gives an opportunity to savour the exhilaration of descending rather than most of the steeper and busier roads which can be a bit sketchy in these slippery, winter conditions.


The roads were wet but conditions were great for Winter riding

I was dressed up for the cold and riding the weighty steel frame complete with mudguards and rack, all of which provided some additional ballast to drag up the hills and raised the spirits when I overtook a couple of cyclists climbing Burrington Combe on their carbon fibre bikes without mudguards. The roads were soaked from the morning rain so maybe their slowness was a result of having pants full of puddle but I showed no sympathy as I mashed my way past. The second climb was Cheddar Gorge where I was overtaken near the top. This gently humbling experience paled into insignificance compared to the final climb where I looked down at my speedo on the steepest section of East Harptree Hill and read 4mph. 4mph! I dug deep and pushed on, trying to ignore my mischievous inner voice trash-talking me by saying this was definitely the slowest I had ever ridden. Shut up brain.

Once home - if you don't have mudguards this is what your arse looks like

If you don’t have mudguards this is what your arse looks like for half of the year

You can’t really post on 31 December without some sort of year in summary / outlook to the new year. This year I rode over 5500 miles which is a great achievement but still a few miles short of 2012. While the recent injuries are par-for-the-course for cycling a whole year, I think I can claim some extenuating circumstances for the new baby in the house. However my plan for next year is to cycle less. This might sound surprising but I intend to quit my current job and do something closer to home, hence less cycle-commuting which makes up the bulk of my riding. Working long hours and commuting long distances leaves very little time for family life and I think the arrival of our baby has been the catalyst for making a positive change in my life. I’m not exactly sure where this journey will take me, but hopefully will also involve significantly less driving in the Bike v Car Challenge. I’m excited about the future. Roll on 2014 …

Calvin and Hobbes - Let's go exploring

Calvin and Hobbes – Let’s go exploring

Park & Pause

Sitting in my warm car in a dark and deserted car park at 6:28am with the wind and freezing rain whipping all around me, I did allow myself a brief hesitation before venturing out to set up the bike. I was 2 minutes ahead of my usual schedule so justified this moment of weakness as a small reward for my timekeeping.

Open door just to check whether the weather is as bad as the rain on the windscreen and temperature on the dashboard indicate

Open door just to check whether the weather is as bad as implied by the rain on the windscreen and temperature on the dashboard

This is the problem with working 40 miles away from home – it isn’t really practical to cycle the whole distance. With the exception of a few occasions in the middle of summer when I cycled all the way, I have only been able to make it work by driving halfway and cycling the rest. However, driving towards work in foul weather seems to provide more of a psychological challenge than just heading out on the bike from the front door. “I could just carry on and drive the whole way” seems to be the negative mantra repeating inside my head on days like today. Fortunately a love of cycling seems to be more powerful than an aversion to bad weather and I endured the second leg of my journey out in the elements of nature, but more with satisfaction than pleasure.

The start of my cycle is through the city of Bath, largely asleep at that time of day. Other than bin lorries and construction vans, the only other obstacles are the potholes which seem to be far more frequent than on roads outside the city. However the big benefit of riding through the city and suburbs is the street lighting. I have a decent enough set of lights on my bike but still prefer the greater visibility provided by street lighting. Currently daylight is arriving midway through my ride out on the back lanes of Wiltshire, but in a few more weeks I’ll be relying on bike lights to guide me along this part of my journey.

Cyclepath following haphazard strimming of overgrowing weeds

Cyclepath following some haphazard strimming of the overgrowing weeds

I took the last part of my journey into work along the cycle path which we built a few months ago. It has settled into its surroundings and seems to be getting good use. And thanks to the small adjustments we made to keep it back from the road it also seems to have avoided any damage from a recent hit-and-run car which crashed through our fence, signage and tree saplings, leaving behind part of its undercarriage and bumper which should at least make some decent evidence along with the CCTV footage.

A change of priorities

It had been six weeks since I last cycled to work. With the arrival of a baby in the house our lives are barely recognisable from before with all of the time and energy required to cycle disappearing into the all-consuming baby vacuum. Recently, however, I have been able to juggle some my of my work commitments (‘juggle’ is a business euphemism for ‘avoid’) and have reallocated this time to getting back on the bike.

This morning was perfect for a long-awaited cycle to work

This morning was perfect for a return to cycling

This week I commuted to work twice by bike and noticed that it is not only our personal lives which have changed dramatically over the last 6 weeks. Summer appears to have turned to Winter, the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, the temperature has plummeted and for all of this I have had no breaking-in period. I was gasping my way up the hills feeling a lack of fitness in my legs and a disgusting burning taste in the back of my throat, before grimacing my way back down chilled to the bones and feeling like a bit of a wimp.

When your colleagues are complaining about having to scrape ice off their windscreens you can join in my saying you had to defrost your beard when you arrived this morning

When your colleagues are complaining about having to scrape ice off their windscreens you can still join in this conversation by saying you had to defrost your beard when you arrived

I’ve also been seeing a physio once a week to try and restore my lower back. Sitting down at work, sitting down in the car and cycling have all contributed to a tight lower back and thighs and a lack of ‘gluteal’ muscles. For years my wife has joked that I don’t actually have a bum but to have it confirmed by a medical expert made her day. Being massaged for half an hour sounds like an enjoyable experience, but it turns out to be an expensive form of torture. The only way to get through each session is to repeat the mantra that if it hurts it must be doing some good. And to yelp like a little girl if it gets too much!

The best way to combat shorter days is to work less hours

The best way to combat shorter days is to work less hours – seems only fair

My plan leading up to Christmas is to find the best balance between work, cycling and family. With the available hours for cycling getting ever shorter, and the cutest little baby back at the house, it seems that work may need to stick to the back-burners for now.

First impressions don’t count

I’ve covered some decent mileage on the new bike recently. As well as a couple of weekend rides I’ve managed to commute by bike almost every day for the past fortnight. The bike is an absolute pleasure to ride and still brings a smile to my face whenever I look at it; however the first impressions from non-cyclists have been quite scathing. A few of my colleagues had been hearing about a new, mythical, handmade bicycle for several months and thought I was joking when I finally appeared on a traditional steel frame bike. Comments such as: “no offence, but it doesn’t look like a new bike” and “is that your grandfather’s old bike?” were funny, but probably summed up the general reaction. The irony is that this new, expensive, steel bike is probably safer from theft than my bottom-of-the-range aluminium bike which had merely copied the shapes of modern racing bikes.

Today I rode my “grandfather’s old bike” to a meeting. I packed my panniers with clothes and papers and set off early, hoping to find a place to change before the meeting. Halfway there it hit me that I’d forgotten to pack any shoes. It was too late to turn back, and I’d unfortunately worn a pair of black socks with white toes. So I was faced with the choice of attending the meeting in socks which looked like spats or clip-clopping around in cycling shoes. I went for the latter.

Nothing finishes off a suit like a pair of cycling shoes

“Did you see that poor bloke who arrived on a crappy old bike and couldn’t afford a pair of proper shoes”

I’m not sure that anybody actually noticed, or if they did they were too polite to say anything. Regardless, it was good practice for walking normally on cycling cleats.

Park & Ride

I’ve been on a new project for a couple of months now. The commute’s a lot further than my previous site, and at 34 miles each way it’s too far to commute by bicycle. I’ve ridden the full route once but the amount of time it takes requires fair weather and a very quiet day at work, things which rarely seem to arrive together. Fortunately I’ve discovered a Park & Ride facility along the route.


Park …

& Ride ... early morning in Bath

& Ride … early morning cycle through the city of Bath

Whilst the facility essentially exists to reduce the number of cars looking for parking within the city centre, the website positively encourages cyclists to park their cars for free and complete the rest of their journey by bicycle. It just happens that this particular cyclist completes his journey by cycling 18 miles beyond the city. 

Or don't pay at all if you cycle

Or don’t pay at all if you cycle

From Bath there’s a long climb out of the city, almost 2 miles of constant uphill. But from there I’ve found a relatively direct route along quiet B-roads and country lanes. And the return journey obviously involves a rewarding, long descent to the city. 

The looming hill

The looming hills await each morning

I'm not quite sure what makes a regular country lane a "cycleway", but part of my route is along one

I’m not quite sure what makes a regular country lane a “cycleway”, but part of my route is along one

Free Park & Rides are a boon to commuting cyclists. I plan to make good use of this one.

Building a cycle path – completion

The final phase in the cycle path construction was the road surfacing. This involved laying and rolling several tonnes of hot asphalt.

Hot asphalt going down

Hot asphalt going down

Steaming tarmac

Steaming tarmac

Whereas a normal road construction can be around 250mm thick and installed in several layers, the light duty cycle path surface was 60mm thick and in two layers.

Completed path

Completed path

The final process was the road markings where an unusual scene was depicted of a square wheeled bicycle being held up by an egyptian hieroglyphic bandit

Just square that wheel up and we're done ...

Just square that wheel up and we’re done …

"walk like a highway bandit"

“insert your own caption here”

Building a cycle path – completing the sub-base

With a firm and level sub-grade established, the next step in the process of the cycleway was the construction of the sub-base. This required importing several tonnes of crushed rock which was laid and compacted using a roller.

Sub-base compaction

Sub-base compaction

This then acted as a capping over the sub-grade soil allowing us to traffic site plant to lay the concrete edging kerbs. These were bedded on a lean-mix concrete base to ensure they were adequately supported both in the construction phase and the final scheme.

Edging kerbs being laid

Edging kerbs being laid

Concrete edging well-supported by in-situ concrete base

Edging kerb well-supported by in-situ concrete surround

Further crushed stone was then imported and laid to the final sub-base formation level and compacted ready for the “fun” part – the roadbase. The only thing more enjoyable in the construction industry than watching concrete being poured is seeing (and smelling) hot Tarmac being laid.

Sub-base crushed stone prior to compaction

Sub-base and kerbs ready for road base

Building a cycle path – Day 2

Following the initial site setup and agreeing the route of the cycleway, on Day 2 the full excavation works were completed. The surface vegetation and top soil were stripped off and the pathway was excavated to good ground. Any vegetation or top soil could decompose leaving voids in the sub-grade possibly resulting in pathway failure through settlement. Fortunately in this case we reached a firm clay and rock subsoil at the specified formation level so were not required to excavate any further. Poor ground, soft spots and previous construction backfill can often require the sub-grade to be reduced even further which can add time and expense to a project.

Excavation to formation level

Excavation to formation level


Due to the anticipated light-duty traffic of a cycle path it is generally not a requirement to test the strength of a sub-grade on site. In this case, the Highways Inspector made another visit to confirm the suitability of the soil and allowed the next phase of works to commence: the sub-base…

Visual inspection of the sub-grade

Visual inspection of the sub-grade

Building a cycle path – Day 1

On one of my construction projects we are required to provide a new cycle path running alongside the public highway and into the development. It is often a planning requirement of larger projects that the developer must contribute in some way towards improving the local transport links. With this particular project a cycle path was recommended by the local authority.

Initial site meeting with the contractor and local highways inspector

Initial site meeting with the contractor and local highways inspector

This morning we commenced the cycle path which required some on-site redesign to eliminate a couple of glaring errors. Rather than having a sharp bend at the exit of the development with a crash barrier to stop people cycling into the busy main road, we re-routed it slightly and introduced a sweeping bend. And the route of the whole path was also adjusted to give greater clearance from the existing street furniture. All fairly obvious and straightforward stuff, but also disappointingly common problems with many cycle paths.

Agreeing the route of the path

Agreeing the route of the path

Once these changes had been approved by the local council officer and the client we starting digging.

Works commence

Works commence

Excavation down to firm virgin soil

Excavation down to firm virgin soil